ANU honours accidental academic

4 February 2015

She was an accidental academic dedicated to avoiding Armageddon, a pioneer in a field long dominated by men, once approached to spy for the Soviet Union, and a source of inspiration for Henry Kissinger.

Now one of Australia’s most renowned international relations thinkers, the late Coral Bell AO, is being honoured through the naming of a school at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Launched by Australian Foreign Minister the Hon Julie Bishop MP, the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs replaces what was formerly the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies.

The new name pays tribute to the achievements and legacy of an academic who spent 30 years at ANU working on issues as important as the Cold War, power politics, diplomacy, and Australian and US defence and foreign policy.

The newly-launched school brings together the University’s critical focus on international relations, strategic studies, and politics and society in the Asia Pacific.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young AO said that Coral Bell, who was awarded her Order of Australia in 2005 and passed away in 2012, embodied everything the school and its work stood for.

“Coral Bell AO was one of the world’s foremost academic experts on international relations, and perhaps Australia’s most eminent and respected international security scholar.

“Academia wasn’t her first choice for a career. Rather, Coral originally worked for the Australian Diplomatic Service. But she ran afoul of a group in the Department of External Affairs who were spying for the Soviet Union. When asked to join them, she refused.

“A rare woman in a male-dominated profession, she opened the path to the international politics field for many women; especially as one of Australia’s first female diplomats.

“Her colleagues describe her as modest, with a healthy disdain for the theoretical, rather preferring to make contributions to and critiques of policy. It was this approach which helped her catch the eye of Henry Kissinger, who wrote to her on a number of occasions applauding her analysis of US foreign policy.

“Most of all, they remember Coral for her lifelong dedication to making sure the world avoided catastrophic nuclear war. She had a vision of international relations that was both human and humane. In the end she was a committed humanitarian.”

Today, the Bell School is home to well-known scholars, experts and commentators including Professor Desmond Ball and Professor Hugh White.

School Director, Professor Michael Wesley said:  “Coral Bell's scholarship typifies the University’s approach to teaching and research: focused on the big questions of our age, dedicated to careful research of the facts on the ground, beginning with the evidence, rather than abstract theories.

“The Coral Bell School aims to become the world's foremost centre for teaching and research on the politics, international relations, strategic dynamics and diplomacy of Asia and the Pacific."

Professor Veronica Taylor, Dean of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, said it continued the University’s strong work and international reputation on Asia and the Pacific.

“The Coral Bell School really exemplifies the quality of the University’s work on Asia and the Pacific. Within the Bell School are some of our most enduring and celebrated centres of expertise on the region.

“The ANU College of Asia and the Pacific hosts the largest number of regional experts and specialist academic programs in the English-speaking world. Our Bell School will continue to be a vital channel for communicating that expertise to inform public policy and Australia’s and intellectual engagement with the societies, cultures, economies and worlds of thought of Asia and the Pacific.”

In addition to the new school name, Coral Bell has been remembered by colleagues and peers with a new book of essays in her honour, Power and international relations. The book, launched Tuesday, is available for free download from ANU Press.

For more information on research, teaching and outreach from the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, visit

Updated:  22 March 2023/Responsible Officer:  Bell School Marketing Team/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team